United States District Court, D. Idaho
WESTERN WATERSHEDS PROJECT, WILDEARTH GUARDIANS, CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY, and PRAIRIE HILLS AUDUBON SOCIETY, Plaintiffs,
JANICE SCHNEIDER, Assistant Secretary of Interior; BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT; and U.S. FOREST SERVICE, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
Lynn Winmill, U.S. District Court Judge
Court has before it the Government's motion to dismiss,
or in the alternative to transfer, for improper venue. The
motion is fully briefed and at issue. For the reasons
explained below, the Court will deny the motion.
original complaint in this case was brought by four different
environmental groups challenging fifteen Environmental Impact
Statements (EISs) issued in 2015 that govern land covering
ten western states. The gist of plaintiffs' lawsuit was
that the BLM and Forest Service artificially minimized the
harms to sage grouse by segmenting their analysis into 15
sub-regions without conducting any range-wide evaluation -
the agencies looked at the trees without looking at the
forest, so to speak. The plaintiffs brought their claims
under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the
Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), and the
National Forest Management Act (NFMA).
in the case, the BLM filed a motion to sever and transfer
arguing that, for example, the challenge to the Utah Plan
should be transferred to Utah and the challenge to the Nevada
Plan should be transferred to Nevada. The Court denied the
motion, reasoning that “plaintiffs made overarching
claims that applied to each EIS and RMP and required a
range-wide evaluation that extended beyond the boundaries of
any particular court.” See Memorandum Decision
(Dkt. No. 86).
litigation was underway, the Trump Administration came into
office and began a process to review and revise the 2015
Sage-Grouse Plans. This litigation was put on hold pending
that review. In 2017 that review was completed, and as a
result, WWP alleges, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke directed
agencies to relax restrictions on oil and gas development in
sage grouse habitat. The BLM responded by issuing amendments
to the Sage Grouse Plans (referred to as the 2019
Amendments). Plaintiffs supplemented their complaint to
challenge the BLM's 2019 Amendments, alleging that the
agency - acting at the direction of the Trump Administration
- again made common errors across numerous Plans, including
(1) failing to take a range-wide analysis, (2) failing to
evaluate climate change impacts, and (3) generally removing
protections for the sage grouse.
Utah and Wyoming intervenors responded by filing a motion to
transfer, arguing that the circumstances have changed since
the Court denied the BLM's motion discussed
above. The intervenors argued that the interests
of justice and the interests of local concerns justified
transferring, for example, the Utah Plan challenges to Utah
and the Wyoming Plan challenges to Wyoming. The intervenors
argued that the challenges in this case are Plan-specific and
will be unique to each State.
Court disagreed and denied their motions. See Memorandum
Decision (Dkt. No. 181). The Court reasoned that their
motions ignored the allegations of plaintiffs' complaint.
Plaintiffs allege that the challenged Plans suffer from
common failings that did not result entirely from errors of
local Field Offices but rather were heavily influenced by
directions from the Trump Administration and the Interior
Secretary. Transferring these cases to various States would
require plaintiffs to make duplicative arguments and courts
to render duplicative - and perhaps conflicting - decisions.
The Court did not agree with intervenors that circumstances
have changed since the Court denied the Government's
earlier motion to sever and transfer.
the Government's motion contains arguments identical to
those raised by the Utah and Wyoming intervenors and rejected
by this Court. The Court will not repeat its analysis but
will simply incorporate it by reference and deny those
portions of the Government's motion.
remaining issue is whether this Court is the proper venue for
resolving plaintiffs' supplemental claims challenging the
2019 BLM Plan Amendments. The venue statute allows a
plaintiff naming federal defendants to bring suit in
“any judicial district in which . . . (3) the plaintiff
resides if no real property is involved in the action.”
See 28 U.S.C. § 1391(e)(1)(C). It is undisputed
that plaintiff WWP “resides” in the District of
Idaho because it is incorporated and headquartered in Idaho,
so venue is proper here under subsection (C) unless
“real property is involved” within the meaning of
Court has previously interpreted § 1391(e)(1)(C) to mean
that “real property” is not
“involved” in a lawsuit challenging an
agency's compliance with NEPA and FLPMA. See WWP v
Salazar, 2009 WL 1299626 (D.Id. May 7, 2009)
(Salazar I). The Government responded in the
Salazar I case by seeking reconsideration based on
the then-recently issued opinion in Center for Biological
Diversity v. BLM, 2009 WL 1025606 (N.D. Cal. 2009)
(CBD), but the Court denied that motion as well.
See Order (Dkt. No. 58 in CV-08-516-BLW). The Court
later reaffirmed Salazar I in a separate case.
See WWP v. Salazar, 2010 WL 375003 (D.Id.
Jan. 25, 2010) (Salazar II), reconsidered on
other grounds, 2011 WL 4431813 (D. Id. Sep. 22,
2011). Just two months ago, the Court reconfirmed its rulings
in Salazar I & II. See WWP v. Interior Board of Land
Appeals, 2019 WL 3877302 (D.Id. Aug. 16, 2019).
Government asks the Court to revisit its prior decisions, and
offers legislative history in the form of a letter from
then-Deputy Attorney General Byron White observing that
“[t]he principal demand for this proposed legislation
comes from those who wish to seek review of decisions
relating to public lands, such as the awarding of oil and gas
leases, consideration of land patent applications and the
granting of grazing rights or other interests in the public
domain . . . and it would be unwise to have the Secretary
sued in Maine with respect to an oil and gas lease in
Wyoming.” See S. Rep. No. 87-1992, at 6
(1962), as reprinted in 1962 U.S.C.C.A.N. 2784,
certainly would be “unwise” to set venue in a
court that had nothing to do with the controversy, such as a
court in Maine resolving a dispute over a Wyoming lease. That
is precisely what Justice White was trying to avoid and the
final version of the statute was apparently intended to
accommodate his concern because its language is close to his
recommendation. But his concern - and that of the statute -
does not apply here ...